THE CRICKET world, as we now know it, is just about a week away from celebrating its greatest festival in the Caribbean.For a month and a half, the people of England and its former empire will be caught in the rapture known as the Cricket World Cup as 16 teams chase the game's greatest prize at the world's third biggest sporting event.However, while fans from far-flung places such as Australia, South Africa and India and cast their eyes to our part of the world, our closest former colonial neighbours under the yolk of Britain - the United States and Canada - will barely raise an eyebrow.
Cricket "up there" nowadays is little more than a quaint expatriate pursuit well hidden in the giant shadow of baseball. It wasn't always that way, as Professor Hilary Beckles reveals in 'The First West Indies Tour - Canada and the United States in 1886'.
The book is based on the "Memory" of the team's experiences and written by "One of Them", Jamaican captain Laurence Fyfe, which was published by Argosy Press in Guyana in 1887.It is complemented by scoreboards of each of the 13 matches played and local press reports of the "gentlemen cricketers from the British West Indian islands". The tour came at a pivotal time for the sport in this part of the world.
However, with the Caribbean struggling economically, Beckles explains the North American venture was more than just play for the 14 "travellers" drawn from the cricket fraternities of Jamaica, Barbados and Guyana.
"For the post-slavery Caribbean it was the first giant step into Western modernity, an intensely competitive imperial world quickly learning how to turn its back upon small places which were once of greater value than continental spaces" Beckles writes.
And the players of the first West Indian team were "economic members of the inward-looking, decaying sugar world, (who) chose to break with the past and swim against the tide".
Their trip took them to two countries also undergoing great change with Canada coming to terms with its Anglo/Franco identity and the United States licking its Civil War wounds.
The West Indians weren't the first foreigners to play against North American teams as sides from England, with the iconic W.G. Grace, and Australia, featuring legendary batsman Charles Bannerman - who made cricket's first Test century, had already been there. The visitors from the Caribbean were not regarded with anywhere near the awe of those stalwarts of the game but they were treated royally on their way to a fairly impressive record of six wins, five losses and two draws against teams playing a game in slow decline.
They handled the Canadian sides well, but struggled in the United States and particularly against the teams based around Philadelphia - which is still an outpost of the game in North America today.
Fyfe, in his 'Memory', lauds the hospitality received and goes into great detail about meals including an early feast in Montreal which comprised Soup - Green turtle. Consomme Royal. Fish - Boiled chicken halibut; cram sauce. Pommes Parisienne. White fish; Hollandaise sauce; cucumbers. Releves - Roast beef. Spring duck; apple jelly. Vegetables - Cauliflower. Green peas. Vegetable marrows. Tomatoes. Entrees - Filet of beef larded with mushrooms, Spring chicken. Saute Marengo. Soft shell crabs. Maitre d'Hotel. Sorbet Windsor. Broiled squabs. Lettuce salad. Dessert - Glace Napolitaine. Ice cream. Champagne jelly. Gateau Juisse. Fruits. Coffee.
All washed down with fine wines and liberal amounts of song; our World Cup guests should dine so well!
However, for the most part, Fyfe's writings is dry and gives Beckles little to work with. Reading between the lines, it would seem the first West Indian cricket tourists were much like the ones of today, who play hard and then enjoy the associated benefits of wine, song and women - in no particular order; but it's up to the reader to make that leap because we are not introduced to the players in any great detail.
What requires no imagination is the fact that exactly 100 years on from that near month-long first tour, the West Indies dominated world cricket and the US and Canada were all but historical side notes of the game.
Maybe somewhere in 'The First West Indies Cricket Tour' there's a book of fiction just waiting to burst forth.
A great post-script to that novel would be "And 121 years later the West Indies were again on top of the cricket world".
The Sunday Gleaner, March 4, 2007 / ARTS
Title: First West Indies Cricket Tour
Author: Professor Hilary Beckles
Reviewed by: Tym Glaser, Associate Editor - Sport
- Preface and Acknowledgements
- Centennial of West Indies versus Canada/United States Cricket, 1986
- Canadian Background to the West Indian Tour
- Cricket in the United States in 1886
- Sugar and Cricket: The Tour Conceived
- West Indian Team in Canada and the United States
- The Tourof the West Indian Cricketers
- Scores and particulars of the Matches played by the West Indian Gentlemen in Canada and the United States—August and September, 1886
- Sundry Scraps of Information